July marks three years since the first medical cannabis prescription was granted on the NHS to nine-year-old boy Alfie Dingley.
This led to a law change on 1st November 2018, which allowed medicinal cannabis to be legally prescribed in the UK for the first time in history.
But for vulnerable families already suffering with the grief of looking after a seriously ill child, this initial optimism has since been replaced with utter misery.
At the time of writing, only private access is available to these vulnerable children and only three prescriptions for whole-plant cannabis have ever been issued on the NHS. This is despite the former Health Secretary Matt Hancock telling parents in a meeting in 2019 that cannabis medicines would be ‘available the normal way’ on the NHS within months – sadly, this wasn’t the case.
This has meant desperate parents are being forced to purchase dangerous products off the black market to treat their children with below par, unsafe, and illegal products.
There are multiple reasons why medical cannabis, despite being a legal medicine, is so difficult to get on the NHS.
Firstly, the NHS guidelines on medical cannabis, written by the drugs advisory body the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) are incredibly restrictive. Secondly, healthcare practitioners simply do not have enough education to confidently prescribe cannabis In fact, 99% of doctors have never learnt about cannabis or the endocannabinoid system.
These hurdles could be quite easily rectified, but there is little to no effort for access to be improved, neither by the Government nor by pharmaceutical companies. Restrictions have actually gone the opposite way and have begun to be tightened and become saddled with bureaucracy. So, whilst the UK generally has a positive opinion of medical cannabis, its use still sits in political purgatory and medical no-man’s land.
Currently, there are an estimated 1.3 million people in the UK using medical cannabis illegally for medical conditions, whether that’s epilepsy, MS, chronic pain or Parkinson’s. On top of this statistic, there are a huge number of people suffering with conditions that could be improved through the use of medical cannabis products. With this in mind, the impetus to improve the convoluted red tape currently surrounding the industry in the UK is huge.
As with any subject matter, PR can be an incredible tool when it comes to raising awareness and influencing change. This is especially true for the cannabis industry, which is particularly difficult to market and promote, even when concerning products of a medical nature.
In recent years, I have seen first-hand how PR has been a huge driver in opening up the cannabis industry, but more still needs to be done in the sector.
A lobbying and press campaign played a key role in securing Alfie Dingley the first prescription back in 2018 and this is the same for the other two NHS prescriptions which have been administered. As you can see a clear example of how PR has been an incredibly effective tool in the cannabis industry.
As if 2020 hadn’t been bad enough, at the end of it, the lives of 40 children taking medical cannabis for severe epilepsy were thrown into jeopardy. Parents were given just a mere two weeks’ warning that their medical cannabis supply would be terminated due to Brexit.
Previously supplies had been guaranteed through EU membership, but unfortunately, Dutch law bans the trade of certain medicinal drugs, and the Brexit deal did not safeguard this. As you can imagine, this left families of incredibly unwell children fearing the existing stocks of these life-saving medicines.
What followed, another example of the power of PR. Following a hugely successful press campaign, which generated over 80 pieces of coverage, with 30 in national and broadcast titles in just two weeks, the Government acted. The mother of Alfie Dingley, Hannah Deacon, was granted a meeting with the Minister for Public Health, Jo Churchill and following this, the Department of Health confirmed supply would be continued until 1st July 2021.
The cannabis industry is expansive, PR firms can bring huge benefits to firms in all strands of the industry, whether that’s by promoting the benefits to CBD products to health and wellbeing audiences, using case studies to show the life-changing effects of medical products, or raising awareness of shocking cases to influence policy and instigate real change.
We have come a long way, but much more needs to be done if the industry is to truly open up. When this happens, lives will be saved and millions will be improved and PRs must remember the role they have to play in this fight.
If you would like to discuss how a press office or lobbying campaign could help put your brand or business on the map, get in touch with us today.